Seven luxury smartphones and privacy services to stop your ‘very important data’ leaking

As threats to personal privacy seem to increase every day, we look at some of the high-end phones and apps designed to see off those dastardly hackers, cyberpunks and data thieves

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 6:01pm

According to William Stubbs, co-founder of tech-focused social enterprise Spur:Labs, the most important currency today isn’t the dollar or the euro – it’s data. And for those with a public profile or with roles that require the management of sensitive industry information, “this is particularly threatening”, he says.

To help combat the threat, a new breed of luxury privacy products has arisen. One is the Vault app devised by jewellery brand Bulgari and security firm WISeKey, which tracks the so-called “very important data” (VID) trend. Vault makes mobile payments and other smartphone data safer by encrypting that data on your device. Optional cloud storage sees that data held in a high-security bunker in the Swiss Alps.

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During data transfer on the internet, when the risk of hacking is highest, WISeKey’s encryption attains a level of security achieved by government agencies, the company states. The app covers passwords, personal identification numbers, credit card numbers and more.

The app’s data can be unlocked by fingerprint recognition and face recognition. For the privilege of embedding their data in a nation synonymous with safety, users pay 49.99 (HK$450) a year for the cloud storage. An additional host gadget, Bulgari’s Diagono Magnesium watch, retails for US$3,900.

The most expensive VID gadget currently available, the Solarin Android smartphone, retails for between US$13,800 and US$17,400 depending on the model. The Solarin was launched in May 2016 by Israeli startup Sirin Labs. The private wonder-phone came with endorsements from stars including Leonardo DiCaprio. Its backers include the Chinese social networking service Renren.

We are living in a world of digital data leaks
Anders Sorman-Nilsson

The luxury smartphone armed with “military-grade” security is sold at the upmarket London department store Harrods and the Sirin Labs Store in the exclusive London suburb of Mayfair.

(According to the start-up content hub TechCrunch, Sirin is, however, laying off one-third of its staff after achieving US$10 million in sales since launch. The startup is now considering a pivot to new computing devices, TechCrunch says.)

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Another major gadget in the VID space, the Blackphone 2, retails for HK$5,088 excluding tax. Touted as the world’s most secure smartphone, the Blackphone 2 uses Silent OS, an Android-based operating system beefed up to address mobile privacy concerns.

“Free of bloatware, hooks to carriers, and leaky data, Silent OS puts privacy in the hands of you and your enterprise, without compromising productivity,” says the system’s parent company, Silent Circle, adding that core vulnerabilities are patched within 72 hours of detection.

Rival high-end smartphones touting top-notch security include the BlackBerry DTEK60 and the Boeing Black, which is made by aerospace giant Boeing in collaboration with BlackBerry.

For its phone, Boeing says that hardware media encryption and “configurable inhibit controls” curb the “risk of mission compromise due to data loss”. According to Reuters, the device is so hi-tech that it self-destructs if anyone tampers with it.

Meantime the Turing Appassionato lurks on the horizon. Built by Turing Robotics Industries (TRI) and Chinese tech company TCL, the Appassionato will feature a diamond-like carbon coating and ultra-strong sapphire display glass.

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An equally futuristic item, the Privacy Phone, designed by tech legend John McAfee, will cost US$1,100. The gadget is trumpeted as the most “hack-proof” mobile handset on the market. McAfee claims it is light years ahead of the Blackphone or any other phone claiming to be secure.

According to Stubbs, the trend for luxury data protection devices and services is set to strengthen. Anders Sorman-Nilsson, founder and creative director of research and strategy company Thinque, agrees. “We are living in a world of digital data leaks,” he says.

Being able to fly under the radar is vital in the digital age, he adds, explaining that it is imperative for wealthy individuals to ensure that details such as their succession plan, trust scheme visualisations or lover’s name escape the next iCloud leak. Such concerns, he believes, will fuel investment in beautifully designed digital privacy solutions.